Prevent Pounds from Creeping Back

 

 

The key to maintaining your weight loss is a few simple but strategic changes to your daily routine.  Here’s the expert-approved plan.

 

You worked hard to lose weight, and you aced it.  Now comes the biggest challenge: keeping it off.   You likely heard about the Biggest Loser study earlier this year that found that 13 of the 14 contestants regained substantial amounts of weight within 6 years.  Suddenly, headlines were blaring that rebound weight gain was inevitable.  Here’s the thing, though: it’s simply not true.  The Biggest Loser contestants are unusual because they lost extreme amounts of weight over a relatively short period of time.  The time factor is the most significant point, as weight lost quickly is rarely permanent weight loss, especially for people who lose a great deal of weight over short periods of time.   Among people who lose moderate amounts of weight over longer periods of time (i.e. the majority of us), 60% keep most of it off.  All it takes is some strategic diet and exercise tweaks.

First, understand how weight loss affects your body.  When you lose a significant number of pounds, your body goes into ‘starvation mode’.  Your system slows production of leptin, a hormone that suppresses your appetite, while at the same time pumping up your levels of ghrelin, a hormone that makes you hungry.  The good news:  you can lose up to 10 percent of your body weight without triggering these hormone changes.  But even if you’ve lost more than that, maintaining your new weight is doable with these science-proven techniques.

 

  • Revise your calorie count.  Once you’re in maintenance mode, you can eat more each day than when you were dieting.  But you can’t have too much more, because your total energy expenditure (the number of calories you burn doing things over the course of your day) has dipped disproportionately, so that a 10% weight loss lowers your metabolic rate by 20-25%.  Fortunately, there is a way to figure out how much you can eat and still stay slim: by the National Institutes of Health body-weight planner (go to: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-body-weight-planner-added-usda-supertracker-food-activity-tool).  Plug in your before stats and then, when it asks for your goal weight, give it your current number.  It will calculate the number of calories you can consume based on that information.  From there, you may need to do a little customizing.  See how you do at that new calorie count; subtract a little if you find yourself gaining some weight, or add a bit if you’re ravenous.  Experiment until you find what works best for you.
  • Eat more plant protein.  Boosting your protein intake helps you maintain muscle mass, which keeps your metabolism humming.  But the kind of protein you eat makes all the difference.  Fill your diet with more beans, chickpeas, peas and lentils along with animal protein.    Eating at least ¾ cup of plant proteins per day helps you maintain weight loss by helping you feel more satiated.  Beans and lentils help keep your insulin levels steady, which prevents the hunger spikes that can cause overeating. 
  • Exercise smarter, not harder.  Daily workouts are crucial; you need to be more active to stay at your new weight than you did to lose pounds because your metabolism is a little slower now.  But that doesn’t mean you have to go hard every day.  An hour of moderate activity like brisk walking or recreational exercise such as riding your bike will keep the pounds off. (You can do 70 minutes/day 6 days per week if you prefer.).  An hour may feel like a lot, but that amount is necessary to maintain because it gives you something researchers call ‘metabolic flexibility’.  This is your body’s ability to adapt and burn extra calories if, say, you decide to indulge in birthday cake at a party or overdo it at a barbecue.  Try splitting the hour up throughout the day: 20 minute workout in the morning, 20 minute walk during lunch, and 20 minutes of weight training in the evening.  And be sure to incorporate strength training in your daily workouts at least twice per week.   Resistance training increases muscle mass, which boosts metabolism more so than cardiovascular training alone.
  • Schedule more time for R&R.  Chronic stress can lower your levels of appetite-suppressing leptin, making you hungrier.   At the same time, stress raises your levels of the hormones insulin and cortisol, which boosts your appetite and slows your metabolism.  Add yoga to your workout mix to increase feelings of calm and build muscle.  And make sleep a top priority, since research links sleep to weight maintenance. 
  • Weigh yourself every day.  People who stepped on the scale daily were more likely to keep weight off over a two-year period than those who didn’t.  While you shouldn’t freak out if you gain a pound or two, tracking the number will help prevent it from slowly but steadily creeping up.  If you gain 5 pounds, take a look at your daily routine to see where you can shave some calories and build in more activity.

Hallie Levine